FPU makes recruitment changes, completes process of eliminating positions

Drop in enrollment results in reduction in tuition revenue, prompting significant changes

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Fresno Pacific University is the Mennonite Brethren institution located in Fresno, Calif. with regional campuses in Merced, North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield.

Fresno Pacific University is going forward with significant changes in how it recruits and cares for students as well as how it structures its business in the face of serious drops in enrollment and revenue. These actions will build the university’s economic position so that over time it can strengthen its mission to develop students for leadership and service through excellence in Christian higher education.

Fall 2022 enrollment was 3,029 traditional undergraduate, bachelor’s degree completion, graduate and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary students, a 14 percent decrease over last year. This lowered tuition revenue, FPU’s major source of income, resulting in a projected deficit of $7.4 million for 2022-23.

The university’s challenges are the same ones faced by many other colleges and universities, including Christian institutions in California and across the United States. These challenges include smaller numbers of traditional-aged students, increased economic insecurity felt by individuals and families, lingering effects of the pandemic and increasing doubt by some about the value versus cost of a four-year degree. Enrollment in bachelor’s degree completion programs, the largest group of students at FPU, has also been affected by declining enrollment in California community colleges.

While many decisions have been difficult, there is already some cause for optimism.

Positive trends

Spring 2023 enrollment numbers are very encouraging. While it is typical for colleges to see lower enrollment in the spring due to fall graduation, preliminary headcount for traditional bachelor’s degree, bachelor’s degree completion and graduate programs show only a 3 percent decline between the fall and spring semesters, well below that of the last two years, with graduate programs in particular remaining strong.

“Such a small decline is very good news,” says President André Stephens. “This last month saw significant efforts from many program directors, faculty and graduate recruiters that truly paid off.”

Looking ahead to fall 2023, traditional undergraduate applications are up 36%, a significant increase.

Since seeing current students through to graduation is as important as attracting new students, FPU recently created the position of chief retention officer. Kerry Sue Brown, director of student success services, is taking the role.

End-of-year giving was up 32 percent over last year.

The university is working with outside professionals in enrollment, financial aid and advancement and anticipates further positive changes in these areas.

“We will continue to work strategically with internal and external partners to develop and implement a financially viable roadmap for our future,” Stephens says.

Faculty and staff positions

The process of eliminating positions announced last fall has been completed. All decisions were guided by enrollment by course, discipline, program and school; student credit hours; program costs in relation to revenues; the ongoing need for general education faculty; positions critical to recent and future investments, core to the university’s religious mission or which have a high potential for future growth; and data on national, state and regional trends in education and job growth projections.

With these considerations in mind, several areas were exempted from faculty layoffs: Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, the undergraduate biblical studies department, the School of Natural Sciences and visual and performing arts.

In October, FPU implemented a Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program for some long-time teaching faculty. Eight chose to participate and will end their employment June 30, 2023.

Eight vacant faculty positions—three that became vacant and five that have been added but not filled over the last three years—will not be filled at this time.

Five other faculty positions were discontinued.

No majors were eliminated.

The masters in Peacemaking and Conflict Studies program curriculum and structure will continue as an individualized major and as a minor, as it has since its reorganization in 2020. The two full-time faculty positions were among those eliminated and courses will be taught by faculty from a variety of relevant areas.

Recruitment will continue for open faculty positions in biology, business-accounting, chemistry, computer science, physics, nursing, mathematics, media studies and criminology.

Affected faculty have been informed their contracts will not be renewed after June 30, 2023.

A total of 16 staff positions were eliminated through attrition and reorganization.

This is a stressful time, Stephens acknowledges, but these changes put the university on a good track.

“I came to FPU because I believe in the power of education, specifically Christian higher education, to form and transform the lives of individuals who attend our institution,” Stephens says. “Those transformed lives are not only an individual good but a societal good as families and communities are transformed by graduates who are loving and wise. Amidst all that is happening around us or to us, we serve a God who is bigger, better and stronger than our circumstances—may we live in the confidence of that truth!”

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